St. Joseph’s Day in Chicago: An Italian-American tradition

There’s a certain Catholic saint’s feast day in March that’s widely celebrated. People of all ethnicities and religions wear green on this day. Here in Chicago, there’s a parade and the Chicago River is even dyed green. It’s a day all about traditions and having a good time and, in some areas of the city, the celebrations last way longer than just one day. But there’s another Catholic saint’s feast day in March that takes place just two days later. There usually is no fanfare and the average person probably does not even know of the day’s importance. The day I’m speaking of is March 19th, St. Joseph’s Day. There is no parade in Chicago, no bodies of water being dyed. There might be a smattering of folks wearing red. Yet, to a great many of us, it’s still a day full of tradition and reflection.

Widely celebrated in Chicago by the Italian-American community, the history of the events associated with St. Joseph’s Day originates in the Middle Ages. The people of Sicily were in the middle of a terrible drought. Out of desperation, they prayed to St. Joseph to bring them rain; in return, they promised to host a huge meal in his honor. Soon enough, the rains came and the land was once again prosperous. As promised, an enormous feast was prepared. So began the tradition of the modern-day St. Joseph’s Table, which takes place annually at churches and Italian-American organizations around Chicagoland. On or around St. Joseph’s Day, parishioners or members donate large amounts of food to the St. Joseph’s Table, much of it homemade and meatless. Members of the community are invited to attend and enjoy the bountiful feast for a monetary donation that, most times, is handed over to organizations that help the needy.

St. Joseph's Table

St. Joseph’s Table | Source

It’s no surprise that yet another Italian-American tradition revolves around food. But for my family and me, it’s another opportunity for us to spend time with friends and family that we don’t get to see very often.

But of course, there is more food involved: the delicious zeppola (plural: zeppole). There are different types of zeppole out there but the one I’m most familiar with and, therefore, most fond of, is a lightly fried pastry filled with custard and topped with a maraschino cherry. We get these “St. Joseph’s cakes” only once a year, around March 19th, so we savor every last bite.

Zeppola | St. Joseph's Day


If you’d like to see what the tradition is all about and enjoy some homemade delicacies, click here to view a list of 2016 St. Joseph’s tables in and around Chicago’s Little Italy. And a few more not on the list above:

Immaculate Conception & St. Joseph Parishes

Casa Italia – Italian Cultural Center

CIAO: Calabresi in America Organization

I originally wrote this article for Mommy Nearest in March of 2014. Only changes made here were to include 2016 St. Joseph’s Day event information.

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9 Responses to St. Joseph’s Day in Chicago: An Italian-American tradition

  1. Jolanta aka Casual Traveler March 15, 2015 at 12:19 am #

    I’ve never heard of St. Joseph’s day, but any holiday that involves good food and spending time with friends and family is worth celebrating in my book! The food on the altar looks especially scrumptious. I should probably check if they celebrate it in Boston, in the North End, also called the Little Italy. Or at least try to find a bakery that has zeppolas.
    Jolanta aka Casual Traveler recently posted…Apartamentos en Merida (Spain) – A ReviewMy Profile

  2. Tam Gamble March 15, 2015 at 6:34 am #

    I honestly didn’t know about this festival but anything that revolves around food has my vote.
    Tam Gamble recently posted…Experiencing the Culinary Delights of Apex Off The Wall, LondonMy Profile

  3. Patti Morrow March 15, 2015 at 9:19 am #

    I grew up in Rhode Island where there is a heavy Italian influence, so I was exposed to St. Joseph’s day. Love zeppola!
    Patti Morrow recently posted…Travel Makes You Healthier, Happier and More ProductiveMy Profile

  4. Jessica @ The Dining Traveler March 15, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

    That Zeppola looks delicious. This is one of the things I love the most about our country, all the fun (and yummy) traditions you experience, especially in a big city!

  5. Constance - Foreign Sanctuary March 16, 2015 at 12:48 am #

    I have never heard about St. Joseph’s Day before but it is nice that it is centered around family and food. And those zeppole look absolutely amazing!!
    Constance – Foreign Sanctuary recently posted…Everything Happens For a Reason [A Link & Info about My Very First Guest Post]My Profile

  6. Olga March 18, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

    As many people here, I’ve never heard about St. Joseph’s Day, so thanks for enlightening me! The celebration table looks amaaazing – if it’s like that every St. Joseph’s Day, I could have that Day every day, haha
    Olga recently posted…London Pass Decoded: Is It Worth The Money?My Profile

  7. Valeria March 19, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    As an Italian I already knew about St Joseph but read the origins of the celebrations here for the first time 🙂 And it’s also Father’s Day in Italy!
    Would love to have zeppole today!
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  8. Shelly March 11, 2016 at 8:39 am #

    I wasn’t aware of this festival, thanks for sharing. Those zeppole look amazing!
    Shelly recently posted…Homeless? What To Do Between House Sitting GigsMy Profile

  9. christine March 11, 2016 at 11:36 am #

    Really interesting post as I didn’t know of this tradition.
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